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Conn College sends its graduates back to their parents, into the world

Meicheng Lu, from right, Samuel Lovejoy, Alexander Lorenzo-Cruz and Nicholas Lorentzen throw their caps during the 106th Commencement of Connecticut College on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Grace Robinson grimaces as she accepts her diploma during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Arrayán Vanegas-Farrara, from left, fist bumps fellow student Miranda Van Mooy as Pricilla Vasquez looks on after receiving their diplomas during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
David Murray, right, celebrates with Connor Murray as they wait to receive their diplomas during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Jazmine Guzman reacts to receiving her diploma during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Class President Lyndon Inglis (right) and Vice President Jocelyn Pinero struck the Castle Court gong to begin the procession during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Graduates line up to receive their diplomas during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Danna Sandoval Markett, right, loses her cap as she hugs her friend Anahi Lopez Patino after receiving her diploma during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints
Linet Mercedes cheers as her name is called during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
CNN commencement speaker Laura Coates, right, receives her honorary degree from Maria Wyckoff Boyce, vice chair of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees, during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Mya Johnson reacts to the cold as she kneels before Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Fanny Ditlevsen hugs family members beforehand during the 106th Commencement of Connecticut College on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Molly Reid waves to family members as she participates in the procession to Temple Green during Connecticut College's 106th Commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints

NEW LONDON – Soroya De La Cruz of Boston remembers how her 3-year-old daughter Giana De La Cruz longed to be “that girl who talks to everyone in English on TV.”

Now 21, Giana De La Cruz, a first-generation college graduate from the Dominican family, spoke Sunday at Connecticut College's 106th Commencement before 380 of her classmates and thousands of friends and family members.

De La Cruz said she wanted the graduates to be able to “hold her speech forever.”

“We cried, laughed, played, sang and learned on this campus,” De La Cruz told the crowd. “I encourage all of us to see and recognize these connections we leave behind today, and look forward to countless more we will create in the future.”

De La Cruz, a psychology major, used a psychoanalytic term called “the analytic third” to describe the connections she and her classmates had made over the past four years at school.

“The analytical third is what we create when we make real contact with one another on a deeper emotional level of experience, whether in groups, communities or organizations,” she said.

De La Cruz's speech noted that many of these connections had been made either over Zoom or masked during the COVID-19 pandemic. The class of 2024 was no stranger to pressure.

CNN anchor and senior legal analyst Laura Coates said in her 2024 commencement speech that graduates' choices in such situations are like carrots, eggs or coffee beans.

“If you put a carrot in boiling water, it's very hard at first, but the pressure somehow softens it. It makes it malleable and easy to mash and break.

“Then there’s the egg. If you put an egg in boiling water, it will start to water down. It begins to be open to change – it can move. It can have possibilities, and when you put it in boiling water, its composition changes. It can no longer be moved. It is as it will be now, and it is unrecognizable to its former self. Don’t be the egg,” she said.

“Or there’s the coffee bean,” Coates said. “If the coffee bean goes into the boiling water, it doesn’t diminish who it is. It changes the water.”

Three graduates received special awards. Ciara Barry McNamara, a studio art and psychology double major, received the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for the most outstanding honors student. Sarah Jane Hall is studying environmental science and received the Claire Gaudiani Award for Best Integrative Project for Seniors. Jastity Mena, a double major in education and sociology, received the Anna Lord Strauss Medal for outstanding community service.

After the ceremony concluded, graduates and their families left their white chairs to gather in small groups on the edge of Temple Green.

There, graduate Henry Smyth, a 22-year-old government official and French double major from Long Island, smoked a cigar with his brother Arthur.

“It tastes like a job well done,” he said.

Amid gasps, Smyth recalled four years in what he called a “beautiful place.”

“When you have this whole place like that, your backyard is pretty awesome. I spend a lot of time outside in the arboretum,” he said. “It’s like having 700 acres as your backyard. I always liked that.”

“I’m looking forward to maybe finally moving to a new place. Go on some adventures. Find a place to live. Spend at least a few years – go exploring.”

When asked how it felt to watch Smyth walk across the stage to receive his diploma, three family members said how proud they were. Mother Kristen Smythe, who heard someone admit for the first time since the ceremony that her son had just reached a milestone despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, was overcome by a sudden outburst of emotion.

“It's like a mix of joy and terrible sadness,” Kristen said. “And utter joy. I am very proud of him.”

“It was the whole 2020 thing,” she added. “They've been through so much. It’s amazing to get through this.”

Father Philip Smyth agreed, recalling how he helped get his son into his freshman dorm.

“You know, we came here in the fall of 2020 and had to drop him off for COVID testing. They gave us about two minutes to help him get into the dorm because, as I recall, they were too shaky. So I brought a hand truck and all that stuff so I could walk in and walk out with my mask on.”

Philip Smyth added that he was impressed both by his son and his alma mater, Connecticut College.

“I think they did a very good job. And a really beautiful ceremony today. Very sincere,” he said. “It gives me great confidence in the future when I see a place like this growing strong.”

Jastity Mena's younger brother, Brooklyn College sophomore Tommy Mena, had loudly cheered for his sister as she accepted her award. Afterward, he wrote a speech on his phone for his sister, which he said inspired him to finish college.

Giana's father, Cristian De La Cruz, laughed as she placed a bottle of champagne in front of the Harkness House, where a sign hung that read, “Connecticut College, Congratulations Graduates, Off to New Beginnings.”

“She won’t stop. It never stops,” he said as he was flanked by family members near the front steps of the building. “She’s currently pursuing a master’s degree. She has already applied and gotten a job at Mass General (Hospital) in Boston.”

“It’s really important to us as a family – what she does.”

Giana De La Cruz said the speech was a way to make her parents proud of “one last great journey.”

“I just hope I can continue to make them proud and show them that the sacrifice — and bringing me here, not just to this country but to this school — was worth it,” she said.

d.drainville@theday.com

Anna Harden

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